By DAVE LINK
Bearden’s Brinley Murphy and Maryville’s Kayla Barr came up short in leading their teams to the 2020 Class AAA state soccer championship.
Both are sophomore forwards and have two more years to reach that goal.
Murphy led the Lady Bulldogs (21-2-0) to the state semifinals where they lost to Franklin, 1-0, while Barr led the Lady Rebels (16-4-2) to the state quarterfinals where they lost to Ravenwood, 5-0.
They’ll be ready for another run at state in 2021.
“I’m so excited about next year because we’re only losing (three) starters,” Murphy said. “We’re coming back with a really good team, and Gabby (Wilkerson) is coming back from a (knee injury). She’ll be a very good asset to the team, and I think our level will just keep going up.”
Barr hopes the Lady Rebels can make their fourth consecutive trip to state in 2021.
“I think we’re going to be pretty good next year,” Barr said. “We have a little more work to do. We lost some seniors, especially our goalkeeper (senior Aaliyah Vananda), but I think we have some good players who will be able to fill in for them.”
Barr and Murphy, the 2020 5Star Preps Co-Players of the year, are both currently playing Elite Clubs National League (ECNL) soccer, although Barr plays in a year-younger age group than Murphy. They know each other well, having played against each other during high school and in ECNL practices.
Here’s a look at their special sophomore seasons:
RADCLIFFE: “SHE’S GOT A MOTOR”
Bearden coach Ryan Radcliffe says Murphy has the intangibles to be among the elite players going through the Lady Bulldogs’ program.
“For somebody that’s got all the physical tools and physical abilities, I think one thing that separates Brinley is her attitude and her competitiveness,” Radcliffe said. “She’s got a motor and she’s got a drive that’s incomparable. You think of some of the top players who have played for Bearden, it’s that similar type of attitude.
“It’s somebody that’s competitive and has a drive and is just as hard on herself than any other coach could be. In some ways, it’s a little bit of her downfall is she puts a lot of pressure on herself and she expects a lot of herself, and that’s rare in a sophomore.”
Murphy finished the season with 21 goals and 14 assists – and like Barr for Maryville – was often the focal point of opposing teams’ defenses and double-teams.
She scored the goal in Bearden’s 1-0 victory over Maryville on Oct. 8, had a goal in the 3-1 sectional win over Farragut, and scored twice in the 7-0 state quarterfinal win over McMinn County.
“She’s always the one demanding the ball,” Radcliffe said. “She wants to be one that’s taking the shot. She wants to be the one that’s winning the game for you, and that’s awesome. It’s a huge tribute to her character and the type of person she is.
“She can be playful and funny and charismatic, but at the end of the day, when the whistle blows, she wants to win and she’s going to do whatever it takes to be that player who puts you over the top. I think you saw that a lot with the timely goals she had and the goals we really needed to have to win big games.”
Murphy also was selected to the All-5Star Preps first team in 2019 when the Lady Bulldogs (17-4-1) lost in the state sectionals to Maryville, 2-0. She had 18 goals and six assists as a freshman.
Murphy stays plenty busy these days playing ECNL soccer while playing basketball for Bearden.
She says the two sports complement each other.
“Obviously, I love soccer a lot, but I love basketball too, and it’s different parts of my body that I use,” Murphy said. “Also, the foot coordination helps a lot, and defense in basketball (helps) with soccer because it’s different parts of my body that I use that helps with soccer, and vice versa with soccer to basketball.”
Murphy’s only regret for the 2020 season is not winning state for the senior class.
“We were playing for our seniors, especially our captains, Janie (Lewis) and Zneyah (McLaughlin),” Murphy said. “We wanted so badly to win it for them. We made it far for them but we wish we could have gone farther. The whole year we were breaking all kinds of statistics, and I think that the leadership on the team was what kept us going so hard.”
Radcliffe expects Murphy will be ready for whatever the next couple seasons bring her way.
“She experienced a lot of double teams, and she’s going to experience it for the next two years too,” Radcliffe said. “I think she’s fine with that. She buys into that and she loves the challenges. And that’s Brinley for you. She loves challenges. I challenge her all the time and tell her she can be better, and she takes it on her shoulders and she tries to prove to herself that she can be better and prove to myself and others she can be better.”
FEATHER: “SHE IS A UNIQUE TALENT”
Maryville coach Steve Feather said Barr combined soccer talents with coachability to have an outstanding sophomore season.
“She is extremely coachable,” Feather said. “As we approached the middle of the season, we saw teams start to shadow her with their best defender or attempt to double her, but she asked excellent questions in practice on how to adjust. She found a way to work her way through the double (teams) by using her teammates and keeping opposing defenses honest with their approach.
“What we were most proud of was that she continued to deliver in the playoffs, even when she knew that defenses would be keying on her. She is a unique talent and a big part of our success this season.”
Barr posted 29 goals and eight assists as the Lady Rebels won District 4-AAA and Region 2-AAA titles, earning district and region player of the year honors.
She had multiple game-winning goals during the season. She scored the game-winner in all three of Maryville’s wins over Farragut, including a hat trick in their first match. She had the game-winning goals in both wins over Oak Ridge, including a hat trick in the Region 2-AAA semifinals. She also had the game-winner against Powell on Oct. 6.
“I just think the (Maryville) defense holds up really well, and my teammates can usually find me and get me the ball,” Barr said. “I just try to finish it as much as I can.”
Barr also was an All-5Star Preps first-team player as a freshman when the Lady Rebels (18-4-3) reached the state semifinals. She had 13 goals and 23 assists as a freshman.
Maryville had to replace a big senior class from the 2019 team, including the entire midfield.
The Lady Rebels’ run to state in 2020 was impressive with all the new contributors.
“It was really surprising, actually, because no one thought we could do it,” Barr said.
Feather said the Lady Rebels wouldn’t have had their success without Barr.
“Kayla is one of the most explosive one-versus-one players I have ever coached,” Feather said. “It is rare to find a player with such an attacking mindset and equally as rare to find a player who finishes the ball at such a high rate.
“She is undeterred by the ups and downs in a competitive match and is impervious to any sort of pressure. If things don’t go our way, she will just keep coming at opponents again and again and again.”